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Hughes finding success with three-quarters delivery

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At 6-foot-7, Jared Hughes towers over batters and is an imposing sight on the pitcher's mound. But he wanted even more height, so he fired fastballs with an overhand delivery.

"I was trying to throw harder, and I thought that would help," Hughes said. "I thought if I got my arm up, I'd have more downhill plane. It kinda worked like that, but I wasn't very accurate."

In 2008, which he split between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona, Hughes had almost as many walks (66) as strikeouts (72). The following spring, during a bullpen session at Pirate City, coaches told Hughes to drop to a three-quarters delivery.

It worked. Over the next three seasons in the minors, Hughes allowed 94 walks and got 239 strikeouts.

"It helped my location and command a lot," Hughes said. "I don't throw harder or anything. It's just that I can throw more strikes and get ahead in the count."

The revamped delivery also puts a bit more side-to-side movement on Hughes' sinker and slider. Hughes has junked his old mechanics and uses the three-quarter delivery all the time.

"It was a little bit hard to learn, but it was also fun because it wasn't as controlled," Hughes said. "I could be a little bit wild with it, in terms of just slinging my arm through. It was difficult to do every single time, but once I got hold of it, it was more fun."

Last season, Hughes made 12 relief appearances for the Pirates. He walked four, struck out 10 and put up a 4.09 ERA. He's vying for a bullpen job this spring but realizes he's a bit of a long shot.

"I'm looking to learn from the older guys on the team, the guys with more experience," Hughes said. "It's not going to stop until I'm one of the better pitchers in the game."

-- Right-hander A.J. Burnett (fractured orbital) was examined Friday in Pittsburgh by Dr. Randall Beatty, who cleared the pitcher to return to spring training camp. Burnett will huddle with medical staff and coaches in Bradenton this morning to plot the next steps in his rehab.

-- Second baseman Neil Walker (tight lower back) will try to go through a full slate of baseball activities today to determine if he can be cleared for game action.

-- Daniel Cabrera (forearm tightness) threw live batting practice Thursday without problem. He's scheduled to pitch in a "B" game this morning against the Twins.

-- Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro appear to be neck-and-neck in the battle for the backup middle infielder spot on the Opening Day roster. Harrison has reached base in seven of his first 10 plate appearances. Navarro has six hits in his past nine at-bats. Harrison will play shortstop today in the "B" game, while Navarro will start at short in the regular game.

-- The Pirates collected 10 hits, including five doubles, in a 7-4 triumph against the Boston Red Sox last night. Andrew McCutchen hit two RBI doubles off the 43-foot-high Green Monster in left field at JetBlue Park. "I've got to hit it a little harder next time," McCutchen said. "But I'll take a double." Jose Tabata went 2 for 4, both RBI doubles. Clint Barmes was 2 for 4 and is batting .500 through four games. Garrett Jones had an RBI single. The Pirates have amassed at least 10 hits in each of their past five Grapefruit League games. "It's a good sign," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We were challenged last year offensively. Guys are very much aware of the need to connect the dots from the bottom to the top of the lineup, to take better ownership of their at-bats. So far, we're doing that."

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Spring Training 2012

Spring Training 2012

Images from the Pittsburgh Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

2012 Pirates Spring Training

2012 Pirates Spring Training

Photos from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

Additional Information:

Pirates gameday

Twins @ Pirates
1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.
TV: Root Sports
Twins pitcher: RHP Terry Doyle
Pirates pitcher: LHP Erik Bedard

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